What Is Cutaneous T-cell Lymphoma?

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is a disease that occurs when your white blood cells, called T-lymphocytes or B-lymphocytes, become cancerous and affect your skin.

Lymphocytes are the infection-fighting cells of the lymph system that kill harmful bacteria in the body, among other things. Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma can cause rash-like skin redness, slightly raised or scaly round patches on the skin, and, sometimes, skin tumors.

Cutaneous lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but has distinct skin-related symptoms. In fact, it is sometimes called lymphoma of the skin. It can resemble eczema or chronic dermatitis, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is by far the most common type of cutaneous lymphoma. CTCL is usually a slow-growing cancer that often develops over many years.

Signs and Symptoms of Cutaneous Lymphoma

Symptoms of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma depend on the stage of the cancer (how far it has spread) and include:

  • Dry, red, round scaly patches, plaques (thick lesions)
  • Thickening of the skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • A rash-like skin redness over part of your body or entire that itches
  • Lumps that form on the skin and may break open
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Causes of Cutaneous Lymphoma

The exact cause of cutaneous lymphoma isn’t known, but scientists know that it begins with a mutation of the white blood cells’ infection-fighting lymphocytes. T-cell lymphoma begins in the lymph tissue, which is found all over the body, including the bone marrow, skin, spleen, tonsils and intestines.

Cutaneous Lymphoma Treatments

While there is no cure for cutaneous lymphoma, the good news is most types are treatable and not life threatening.

To determine the best course of treatment for you, our team will take into account factors like your age, overall health, medical history and tolerance for specific medications, procedures and therapies. The type of T-cell lymphoma, extent and location of the disease and expectations for the course of the disease will also factor in to determining the best treatment.

Our treatment options may include:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs are used to destroy cancer cells. Drugs may be put on the skin as a cream or gel injected into a vein.
  • Drug therapies: Other drug therapies may include retinoids, corticosteroids and targeted drugs. Some are applied to the skin, while others are taken by mouth or given as an injection.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses a radiation machine that emits X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Photodynamic laser therapy: This therapy uses a certain type of light and a special chemical to kill cancer cells.